A dream-like retelling of the 14th Century chivalric tale of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight, familiar to anyone who did Old English in school or university, David Lowery’s film is breathtakingly beautiful and haunting, with a strong central performance from Dev Patel. Playing fast and loose with Arthurian mythology, Patel plays Gawain, a man desperate to become a knight in the court of his uncle King Arthur (Sean Harris) and Queen Guinevere (Kate Dickie). His mother is Sarita Choudhoury’s witch (Morgan Le Fey), who conjures a spell as her son sits at Arthur’s Christmas banquet and wants to be told a story.
His wish is granted as the Green Knight appears – half-man, half-tree – and wants to play the Christmas Game. Any of Arthur’s knights can strike him, but the blow will be repaid a year from hence at his Green Chapel. Patel, wrought with ambition and possibly coerced by his mother, accepts the offer and cuts off the Knight’s head. Unfortunately, the Knight then picks his head up and leaves the court laughing; Gawain’s fate a year from hence seems set.
Patel then goes on a dreamlike journey, a quest through ravishingly shot countryside by cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo. Here he encounters scavenger Barry Keoghan, Erin Kellyman as a mysterious woman searching for her head, and Joel Edgerton and Alicia Vikander’s sensuous Lord and Lady, whilst also seeing giants and gaining a fox for a companion. It is all deeply strange and truly immersively cinematic: Lowery conjures up the feel of a strange world, full of grime but also painterly, exotic and wondrous. Patel is superb as Gawain, proud and lost, unsure of what he wants in the world and what his meaning in the world is.
Writer/director Lowery creates mood and menace with skill and ingenuity, with a soundscape and haunting soundtrack from Daniel Hart that truly gets under the skin. A bravura final sequence is pure cinema, reassessing what has gone before, and like Lowery’s other film – the superb A Ghost Story – The Green Knight pulls at what it means to be human in a world so much bigger than yourself. Alicia Vikander has a speech about the power of nature that haunts and provokes, massively relevant in our climate-changing world.
The slow pace won’t be to everyone’s taste, but The Green Knight is a truly different, involving experience, with multiple interpretations and packed full of innovative imagery from a restrained, intelligent master storyteller. It deserves to be seen on the big screen.
Dir: David Lowery (15, 129 mins)
In cinemas and on Amazon Prime now
words KEIRON SELF
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